“If there is a clash in the South China Sea, the possibility that foreign countries would intervene is low, and any conflict would not last long,” he confidently predicted.
Zhang’s reputation as a prognosticator, however, has taken a few lumps. He warned of a series of calamities for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, predicting the attackers would be “engulfed in the vast ocean of a people’s war.” Later, in the face of online ridicule, Zhang was forced to concede on television he had insufficient “intelligence” about the disposition and strength of Iraq’s forces other than what he learned on the Internet. More recently, Zhang also wrongly predicted Libyan dictator Muammur Gaddafi would prevail over the rebels seeking his overthrow.
Zhang was not available for comment.
WELCOMING THE “PIVOT”
On occasion, a battery of belligerent top brass will concentrate their firepower on a perceived challenge to China’s territory or dignity. In September, three days after Tokyo outraged Beijing with its decision to buy the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands from a Japanese citizen who owned them, China’s state media unleashed a propaganda broadside in a joint commentary from 10 generals including Dai Xu, Luo Yuan and Zhang Zhaozhong. Calling for a tough stand against Tokyo, they accused rightists in Japan of moving the country dangerously toward a revival of its World War Two militarism.
The drumbeat of threats and warnings from uniformed officers is contributing to regional apprehension about China’s territorial intentions. Southeast Asian nations have welcomed the U.S. “pivot”, Washington’s stated intention of shifting more attention and military assets back to the region. They are strengthening ties with Washington and boosting military spending.
Right-wing voices in Japan calling for re-armament are gaining ground - a trend that solidified with December’s landslide election of the hawkish Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Abe has proposed the first increase in Japan’s Defense budget in 11 years, citing repeated Chinese incursions into disputed waters.
In Melbourne, Ren explained that Beijing’s military buildup was purely aimed at preventing a repetition of earlier foreign aggression that China had been too weak to resist. “To prevent a repetition of this historical tragedy, China has no other choice but to develop proper military strength,” he said.